Timelines, June 18, 2015

Orange & Rockland propose rate hike

Orange & Rockland Utilities has proposed a pair of revised rate increases for Rockland residents, changes which now await public hearings and state approval.

The utility is awaiting the Public Service Commission’s go-ahead to charge $18.1 million more in electric rates and $49.2 million more in natural gas rates. The charges would be broken down into a $1.85 monthly charge for electricity and a $9.67 monthly charge for natural gas.

Consequently, electric rates would see an uptick through October 2017 while gas rates would be up through October 2018. The increases average out to $11.52 more per month for Orange & Rockland ratepayers.

According to Orange & Rockland spokesman Michael Donovan, the rates would cover expenses from new infrastructure, property taxes and ongoing post-Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts.


Modified East Ramapo bill rejected by Assembly Democrats

An amended version of an East Ramapo oversight bill was rejected on Tuesday by Assembly Democrats who argued the changes weakened the proposal too much.

The bill was initially passed in the State Assembly by Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, both of whom represent East Ramapo. In the Assembly version, a state monitor would be appointed to oversee the district and work with the elected school board to create a long-term fiscal plan.

A companion bill sponsored by Sen. Davi Carlucci in the Senate similarly established oversight, but also included substantive changes to make the proposal more appealing to Republican legislators critical of the bill. Carlucci’s bill would expand the power of the Comptroller’s Office over financial and operational reviews of the district, limit the authority of the monitor by removing its veto power and cut the oversight period from five to two years.

Jaffee and Zebrowski, though critical of the expansion of Comptroller’s role and the cuts to the monitor’s authority, stated they are negotiating in good faith to reach a compromise before the current legislative session ends.


State Legislature passes new restrictions on sex offenders

The New York State Legislature passed new regulations last week governing sex offenders, closing loopholes in state law to strengthen residency requirements.

The law prohibits convicted sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of any school building regularly used for instructional purposes, including all day care facilities. Older regulations unintentionally excluded some pre-kindergarten and daycare facilities, leaving them legally-accessible to sexual predators.

The law, which was inspired in part by failed local laws which established similar buffer zones, was proposed in response to the legal residence of a Level 3 sex offender near a daycare center in Clarkstown. Similar local laws have been repeatedly struck down when judges frequently upheld precedent allowing only state authority over sex offender registry requirements.


Haverstraw woman sentenced to probation for identity theft

A Haverstraw woman faces five years of probation for falsely-reporting that she had been robbed while taking her employers’ money to the bank.

Dulce Santos was a manager at the Haverstaw McDonald’s when she stole the money from the restaurant. In addition to probation and repayment of the stolen $1,815, she has also been ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.

According to police, she fabricated a story that she was robbed outside the Chase Bank on Route 9W to cover up the theft. However, a review of security camera footage revealed she was alone in her car during the reported time of the mugging and was never confronted by robbers.

Santos explained the theft to Haverstraw police by saying she needed for her past-due rent and sick father.


Day moves to collect improper Sewer Commission pay

County Executive Ed Day vowed on June 5 to rein in over-spending on county commissioners, beginning with the Sewer Commission.

Day directed County Attorney Thomas Humbach and Finance Commissioner Stephen DeGroat to collect improper payments made to members of the county’s sewer board. The officials, which included the supervisors of three towns, were paid $2,375 each year.

The collections, though seemingly agreed upon by all parties, became politically fraught when allegations of party politics emerged. Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack wrote a check for $24,982 to the county and a request that the money be kept on hold until an independent party rather than a Day-appointed Republican official could examine the matter.

The move prompted Day to warn Gromack to hand over the money without conditions, otherwise it would be returned. Gromack responded that the request was a suggestion rather than a condition.

According to Day’s public policy and intergovernmental relations director Stephen Powers, no political motivations were behind the collections. Some members of the Commission have complained anonymously that they received the stipend in good faith and should not be forced to return the money.


Lawsuit alleges sexual harassment by Rockland correctional officers

A lawsuit filed by a woman who worked as a corrections officer at the Rockland County Jail alleges that her male colleagues sexually harassed and spread false rumors about her while she worked for the county.

Valerie Russell, who worked at the jail since 2011, is seeking compensatory damages, back pay, attorney’s fees and changes at the facility in response to incidents when she was sexually taunted by male colleagues. According to her, the harassment went as far as other corrections personnel falsely claiming she slept with multiple officers, comments about how her pants fit and references to her as the “new jailhouse whore.”

Russell resigned on October 17 after an internal investigation at the jail failed to substantiate her claims. According to her, now jail chief Anthony Volpe instructed her to keep quiet to Sheriff Louis Falco or she would likely be immediately fired.

The lawsuit also alleges several officers were reprimanded for their behavior but did not cease their commentary. Falco responded by stating he could not comment on the alleged harassment, disciplinary responses or policy changes implemented as a consequence.

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